Conducted at MIT Boston
T. I first came across your work in a catalogue for a drawing show of yours at Bess Cutler Gallery NYC. It was extraordinary because it looked like the work was talking about simulacra, and yet when I looked into it I realised that it dated from the 60's - that seemed extraordinary and extreme at the same time...
S. Extraordinary and extreme, that's good!
T. What started off that work? To make a remake or repetition of an artists work. A contemporaneous artists work, which is the working extremity of your work.
S. I think basically, what was around at the time was the last embers of the abstract expressionists and then in came the pop artists. So this was all surface, because the abstract expressionists were just wild emotion and the pop artists were taking cultural referents. So that pushed me to thinking about the under structure of life. What was the silent power of art or in the structure of power of art? So that was very long-term thinking. My grounding was philosophical.
T. What would that philosophy have been?
S. Oh God. Hegel, Kant everybody. Nietzsche, a heavy grounding in Nietzsche. So that set me off. So I decided you could use as a source another piece of art and then throw out representation and then talk about the under structure of art. So that basically is it. But then when I devised that, it was so scary, basically it was very simple. It's so terrifyingly simple, the idea behind it. So I really spent a lot time trying to really affirm that it was a possibility. I saw that it was. So I did it.
T. It must have been scary, because you were exhibiting work at the same time as those artists and their work was present in the room. So it must have been scary both for you possibly and possibly for the artists too.
S. I'm sure it was.
T. How was it perceived at the time?
S. Actually, I did a show at Biancini Gallery. It was received in two ways. One very negative and one positive, and the negative were all about the market, that sort of thing.
T. It was good marketing....
S. I was making Warhol's to sell more Warhol's, very, very stupid. And the other was of course, that it was mega-pop, that it superseded Warhol...that made it even worse, in terms of the work. But then, that being market orientated was of course enormously popular, because if you look at what was going on, it was the surface, that's what it seemed to be. And of course, the dealers were just so upset because the work was very powerful. A Stella looks like a Stella. A Johns looks like a Johns. So they found that enormously threatening. So I had a lotta problems. Yeah.
T. When all that simulation theory came out in the 80's. Did that affect your relationship to that work?
S. Well, I suppose in some ways that it did. It helped some people gain access to the work, but it's not right, it's not correct. And besides really, basically people, in the States were not really involved in art. But it did not help. No.
T. How did you relate to someone's work like Sherrie Levine?
S. Well, she's doing things so very differently. I mean product had nothing to do with my work. But that was also a common misunderstanding, where it was put that we were in competition with each other, because really we had nothing to do with each other. I've made some very positive statements about her in interviews. I think that helped matters. But the appropiationists reacted very violently to my work, it gave me negative definition. Suddenly when we had the appopiationists my work made sense for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless I could defend my work by negative definition, which gave them references that made sense.
T. Your work for a long time has been about questioning parameters. Parameters of art practice, parameters of art making...
S. Well yes it does, that does happen. That's an overlay on the work. It was certainly not the driving force in my thinking, but it's true. Which is good because if the work only worked to your own intentions then that's not so good. So the work spreads out a little bit. So, questioning originality was a very big factor, but now the difference is, they kept saying Sherrie Levine was questioning originality, I wasn't questioning originality, I was trying to find out how originality functioned, what its dynamics were, in terms of how it was perceived, and in a more profound way, that was a very big part of it.
T. When I show people examples of your work, they always hint at a kind of madness in their response.
S. A kind of madness, that's great!
T. To inhabit the other person's work, inhabiting the other.
S. Because it has nothing to do with that. One of the big battles I've had is that it was homage. I had to really fight that. That was a hard number to overcome. Because it is not homage.
T. So the act of repetition how does that shifts our relationship to the art object?
S. Viewers are just nowhere in my focus. One of the things that I find upsetting is that some of the young artists talk about the viewer and I think it's basically because they don't know what they are doing. So they say 'I'm doing it for the viewer'. I haven't been able to get hold of one of them to ask him 'how does that function for you'. Why would you be making art for the viewer? You're supposed to be making art that's dynamic, forceful and powerful and endures. Anyway, what was your question? Repetition?
Well, repetition was of course, a powerful force. Repetition is differing the situation. Repetition is same. Repetition is thinking. By repeating, rather than repetition, repeating is different because Warhol repeated he did not do repetition. So, once you do that, you're distancing the work from the source and at the same time elaborating upon it, so that changes the past and the future in a very dynamic way.
T. Of the object?
S. Not particularly of the object maybe the way of thinking.
T. Your perception of it?
S. Not particularly the perception of it - just about thinking, thinking about perhaps art as object or is whatever, but not the source. Although, that happens, that does happen when the source will be seen differently once it's been repeated.
T. Have you ever made a piece of work which you might do this act of repetition
Which might end up as not being an art object. You might do an act of repetition that doesn't start with art?
S. I'm not sure what you're asking me?
T. Do you always operate within the framework of the art object?
S. No. The recent videos where they have devolved form an initial conceptual thinking, so basically, what I'm concerned with for the past three or four years is the visibilities, as opposed to the visible - that which is seen. So, I'm trying to articulate visibilities. So that for instance Dillinger Running Series, was about that.
T. What orders of visibilities have you mapped out?
S. What is the content?
T. What kinds of visibilities are we talking about then?
S. Basically it's mental structures, about mental structures, so for instance, the video 'The Greening of America', is what you sense is the greening of America. It's 1 min 30seconds long on a continuous loop, it has maybe no more than 10 frames and they're all stills, except for two and that's all to demonstrate what we are embedded in, in terms of thinking.
T. Which is what, how are we embedded in our thinking?
S. Well, look that's a five-day lecture! Things like how truth is falsity. There is no longer any democracy because people have no choice, because you only have choice in opposition. Then there's violence comes in. So that's democracy. Your government in America is corporations. High technology is rigidly binding people by control. Everything has become technology; the imposition of technology is enormous. How language is being destroyed in terms of how it no longer has an action - a few things like that.
T. So, ultimately quite a pessimistic outlook!
S. I don't see it as pessimistic. I see it as what it is. What we're dealing with now. So there's a difference, it's not based upon an opinion, it's not based upon a feeling, it's based upon what the phenomena are; in terms of behaviour, in terms of language, in terms of labour, in terms of politic.
T. Are there any redeeming factors within technological developments?
S. Oh sure! Of course absolutely. That's what I find interesting, that if you critique something, some people think that you throw out the whole thing and you think it's rotten. There are many many positives about technology.
T. Have you read that essay by T.J.Clark on Tony Oursler and technology, in which he seems to argue that language is being expanded by technology?
S. I would certainly like to read that, we could have a good conversation. He's certainly not talking about the dynamics of all this. Is he talking about the abundance of language? That's very different, because the abundance is going downhill from what is going on at the moment.
T. Is that because with the abundance of language, it's getting harder to listen?
S. Yeah, we lose our ability, it's just stayed still, because basically people don't talk.
T. Tell me more about your approach to Shifting Mental Structures?
S. My book that NYT (?) rejected, because it had so many colour plates. It's called The Dialectics of Thinking. Although I've shifted on that, because the dialectics has taken the negative to reflect on what truth is, and this gets confusing because our truth is falsity, but it's choosing dialectics in a different way. Predominantly, dialectics is a way of thinking; it's predominantly a way of using visual images that will point out contradictions that point out modes of thinking. So for instance, you have short shift thinking, that's one section and that's very dominant in America. That people do not think of the consequences of their actions, and if something that they know is wrong, they're hoping they won't get caught. It comes without that dimension. So that SUV's (large pick up trucks?) are short shift thinking because they use so much gasoline and they complicate everything they're trying to do now. And so you choose things like that, that's one section. Then there is the Non-Dialectics of Arrogance, which is transgression, and that's all fields, including; death and murder, wish for death that goes into transgression. And then, the other section is Concealment, so that, many things that are seen or that are said have under them many dangerous factors that are invisible, that are concealed. That is very predominant in America. Things are being said but it's what is being said underneath that has the power.
T. I'd like to start in the middle period of your work and work to each end and talk first about the level of politicisation in the Hostage and Mercenary paintings in relation what came before and after.
L. My first politically overt paintings happened at the end of the sixties where I worked on paintings, very large scale paintings called Gigantomachies originally a Greek term for Velogods and Titans. Like the painting here of Prometheus, this is a painting of 10-12 years ago, because Prometheus was a Titan and after the Titans were defeated against Zeus' direct orders, he gave fire to mankind, and Prometheus was punished and the eagle ate his vitals - so
T. I DON'T HEAR A THING
T. Do you feel that silence; a certain kind of silence is what's happening now?
L. Of course, we never hear the victims, we don't want to hear them, and we don't want to know what is going on, we hear about it of course, but we don't pay any attention, and the US doesn't want to hear about it. So we don't pay much attention, just like the US is very anxious about any soldiers that are wounded, bit it pays little attention, the Defence Department or the newspapers, to the victims. It frankly, keeps it under wraps and doesn't show very much in the way reality. Soma! Whereas the Arab TV stations show lots of it, they have a point to make, we have appoint to make and our point is different from their point.
T It's a propaganda war.
L. Sure. We are winning without much in the way of casualties, that's collateral damage. So, I DON'T HEAR A THING that has to refer to political aspects of reality and in that sense my work has changed from the Mercenary series, which simply showed these figures that stoop to this kind of work. In other words it will carry on the acts that governments sponsor but covertly because mercenaries are not soldiers, you see.
T. Those paintings were of a different order of representation weren't they - the frontality of them, the scale is similar, but the big difference now is the spatial organisation, recessional space?
L. Well, the biggest difference from my point of view is a certain kind of irregularity. In other words the Mercenary paintings operate on the edge, right
They're psychically more paradoxical most of my work in recent years is dispersed. It's tense in a different way, graphically
T. Going back to the early work of the Mercenary series. They seem more particular, more particular to its time in history.
L. Well, for example, The mercenaries involvement in Vietnam, so we get American soldiers in uniform, you get the Vietnamese as the victims and therefore an attempt in a direct way to visualise American involvement in this conflict. That is it's very direct pretty much one on one. The painting is here, what it's all about. You can miss something's in my more recent paintings, depending on what you bring to it. So there's an ambiguity here. I desire an ambiguity. So the later painting show ambiguity in these ways and that ambiguity is the flux of information, the flux of subjectivity, the lack of understanding of each other both deliberate and just by hit and miss - it's an attempt to get a more intimate casual but maybe less direct confrontation through all this.
T. How much does that notion of ambiguity stand for post modernist eclecticism?
L. Well it would have to have some connection to it
T. How much is your work now an acknowledgment of that eclecticism?
L It probably is you see in various ways. I probably picked up attitudes and so on. A lot of it comes from not just the 80's the earlier paintings were more or less ambigous and so on in these respects. Take Rauschenberg, a lot of ambigous stuff in Rauschenberg, in fact it's mostly ambigous, it's an image against another. The difference between Rauschenberg and myself would be that maybe I become aware of some of this through him. But that I drive is somewhere. He's not interested in driving it anywhere. He's interested in moving it around.
T. Dispersing it across the picture.
L. I'm interested in driving it in certain location, whipping it into shape, so to speak. Very irregular. So all of this post modernist stuff would play a part but also Nancys work plays a part too because she was post modernist before many of the post modernists were post modernist.
Her use of language in art goes back to the 50's and her bringing in at times very ambigous imagery was certainly so. She was not influenced by Rauschenberg at all! I would say there is as much influence from her as there is from others. More from her because sh's with me in the house doing this stuff, hard to avoid it! She always had it right back in art school.She had a collage temprament in a certain kind of way. Her sketchbooks were full of photo plates placed against each other, pasted on, which are quite often done by young artists as part of their general thinking process. An equal influence has to be the way we perceive information today becuase through TV and computers and everything else we are being attacked by or infused with, depending on how you look at it, an almost infinite number of images and they're always bouncing in our heads. I use a word, I was going to do a book on it, called Jittering. You see jitters, so this flux of information, which I've been aware and wasn't sure how to bring it into my work..So sure post modernism had an effect, Nancy's work had an effect and the onslaught of media had an effect. So that's your product of a lot of different kind of things.
T. The real and crucial differences of your practice with post modernism is that you are one of the few who takes on board subject matter and manipulates the subject matter to your own ends.Given the history of american art and what happened in 50's american modernism, it's troubled relationship with representation that must have been a tough attitude to maintain?
L. It was. Certainly it was not an easy situation for me. For example, they use a phrase, which I like, a combination of words, rather, from astro-physics.The Event Horizon. I like that. I would like to be able to, not the absolute limit, I'm not that proud. But the event horizon of our world, our civilisation, one of it was Vietnam. There are a lot of other things I don't cope with, I don't even think of coping with. I don't do anything about child murder, for example, that is part of what is going on. Disappearing children, it is a great anxiety in our society. I don't do anything about financial shenanigans that go on all the time, which is an awful big part of our world. I could list 25 things that I don't touch on but there are certainly event horizons that I am interested in. For example, the US intervention in countries in South East Asia.
T. Yes what does it mean to be liberated by the US?
L. Exactly, I'm interested in that. I read on it, I think about it and I try to put some of it in my work. The last painting I did (Before the Stallin??), it has, in big letters on top. I have small canvases don ink on linen, I've done 40 of them by now, they show somebody striking another man, somebody fallen, they all deal with brutality and civil conflict or war conflict. They're sketchy, they're quick, and to my mind they're to the point. Now a certain number of them carry messages on them. The two primary messages are THIS CAN BE YOU or WE CAN DISSAPPEAR YOU.....
T. Sometimes that can be an economic dissappearance...
L. I'm thinking more brutal than that. Let's say in UK today and US this is not a common way of treating dissidents. It might happen but it's not very common, it's more common in many European countries including China, African countries, Latin American countries etc. The US is not totally against this, you see. I DON"T HEAR A THING applies to our government WE DON'T HEAR YOU. You are not saying anything. Will I yell still louder? You can yell at the top of your voice, we still won't hear you.
T. Does that go back to Greek ideal of space, when you belong to the city space you are allowed to talk and be heard?
L. Good point, that is true. So the painting, I am talking about, in big letters painted on it and below it are a few shapes, like that one up there. Those white shapes, that are this size, which need some imagery just painted on the canvas, like signs.... and a dog and then there's these letters printed on in a an almost empty space that says DO YOU GET IT. And that interests me, to paint like that. This painting here will go that way eventually, it'll take a little while though.
T. There has been a lot of discussion of your work, about how it represents itself as work, as surface and how it works at the level of representation. The interesting thing about the way you talk about work is more of the level of making a piece of work, like a presenter, like a message sender, rather than being a representer of information.
L. OK. Yeah I'm trying to get into, this sounds like I'm a bigmouth, the psychic life of our society, as it organises itself and carries on its dynamic for power...
T. Does that mean you adopt the voice of authority then?
L. I adopt the voice of a dissident.
T. But somehow, you must inhabit this authoritarian place at some point.
L. Well, I'm in this society of ours! Maybe though, if I had the power, I'd be as bad as anybody else. To understand it, everybody understands it, in your skin, through it, you understand it, you walk down t he street. You see a policeman, for some reason he'll give you the look. You recognise how this guy has the authority to interrupt your life. Less without reason, than say in Chile, he still has a certain kind of authority. We recognise in him, as partial protector or a total protector depending on how you look at it. I knew someone who came from Brazil, who said if ever you're robbed in your home, you do not call the police. The reason you do not call the police is they'll rob you even more!
T. They come to finish off the job.
L. But, even in this society they can't be trusted, because sometimes if you're black they'll kill you. The fact that sometimes they'll kill because they're frightened, which is often the case when they are in so called dangerous areas,
T. Going back to this question of psychic space...how violent are you? After all, you have access to violence through images...
L. Really!...I can be violent verbally. OK. I'm not violent physically.
T. I'm talking about how do you inhabit the violence...
L. Because I feel it's in everything. It's all over the place, you know. There's verbal violence, there's psychic violence, there's physical violence, you know.
T. You manage to tap into it...
L. Yes, I'm interested in it.... Did the violence come first or did society come first, is a neat little question. People come in to this world and they occupy themselves doing something at a specific point in time that they cannot exactly analyse, you see. Somebody wants to paint flowers, you know, that's what he wants to paint, OK! There's nothing wrong with that! I paint violence. I want to paint violence. You see, I can rationalise it by saying that it's in our society but every artist doesn't paint violence. I come predisposed to it.
T. Did the analysis you had when you were starting out as a young artist give you access to subjects like that?
L. To some extent, not enough to really explain it I think. It made me more at ease with it in every day life. Depending whether you're conflicted with one should do this or not. Ultimately, the problem with psychoanalysis might be you can't necessarily blame us for everything. Just like you can't blame your parents for everything. You can't say I am what I am because of them, therefore refusing responsibility - free will! And so on. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for your actions, in the sense that, there is an irony of the situation and your coping with it one way or another and you're responsible, you can't put it back onto someone else.
T. Which is also the responsibility we have as artists isn't it, such as what responsibility do they take for the work and what does it do.
L. That's true. And artists may have very ambigous responses to that.
T. Because we are necessarily amoral.
L. Sometimes, they don't want to question too much, you know, where they come from and why. Most of them aren't prepared to do this. Art doesn't have that kind of function in our society. Art is a product for the enhancement of our spiritual selves, our aesthetic sense; it's something that's supposed to allow us to spread our wings. It can be a provocation, which can be very exciting. It can even have pleasurable, threatening aspects to it. It can be a million different things, but it is not something that's usually thought of as in terms I'm trying to think about, because Western Art has ceased to deal with those subjects very much. I'm not the only one!
T. Is that the Modernist break with its audience?
L. I think so...Modernism doesn't mean that you can't critique society. There are many critics operating in Modernism, Walter Benjamin, for example, who made very strong critiques of the world we're living. I think it comes from the function of art today, which is part of the great pleasure giving activity, great leisure type activity, it enhances your life. In every society you can name, art was thought of, not consciously always, as giving a picture of the world, which it inhabited. In the Renaissance art shows the power and authority...
T. The world as it exists.
L. And in feudal times, it showed the world, as it will be, Christ enthroned, angels in place. And this is the world to which you aspired.
T. Then, isn't Modernism the world as it should be?
L. That's true, it's utopia - very utopian. Yes I'll accept that. It's so abstract to see the world that way, I can't say finally what that signifies. The world as it should be isn't necessarily the world of abstract form. What does that imply? The early Russian artists like Malevich and El Lissitsky, people like that, implied a transforming power to these images. It did imply a Utopia, but the contemporary abstraction, as we know it implies a utopia too. I'm not sure it implies a sensuous moment in time too. That's not so bad either.
T. Tell me about Dubuffet, to go right back to the beginning for a moment, to the Chicago Arts Institute. What did the effect Anti Cultural Positions speech he gave have on you?
L. I don't know if I was there or not. I get it all mixed up. I've been asked so often about it. I don't know if it was in French or English. I knew his writings before that, not from Greenberg but from Dubuffet himself. Dubuffet published 25 books on himself. He was a well to do man and he could afford to put out very interesting publications. I was very aware of him back in 1946-48. I was given a very early book of his Macadena Mirrablis, whatever it's called, which unfortunately I can't find. In which there are very early images of figures like a child with hands coming out of the stomach. I liked them a lot. However, they were not deeply influential on my work. Maybe superficially influential, because I was coming from so called primitive art and in the time I started at art school in 1946 I was absolutely after primitive art, pre-Columbian, the art of New Guinea, all that entered my work in a very derived sense. I could end up like the damaged man or the burnt man that came from the West Coast Indian art, where they used to have these hand extensions coming out of their sculptures. I put that into my own version of the burnt man. I'm using that as an example.
T. Was that to circumvent or go round Christian art?
L. Depends what you mean by Christian art, are we talking about medieval art? I wasn't interested in it. I was interested in German expressionism and late German gothic sculpture; it was very extreme in its emotionality; mourning women, Christ on the cross, very distended bodies. That entered my work, but it didn't enter my work to the power that late roman art did. At the same time, I was interested in primitive art, by the drawing Hellenistic Memories that tried to deal with this in a certain sense. But it was primarily, primitive art that I was interested in, and I was looking for certain kinds of elemental aspects of self that could be more intense than the guise of realism or expressionism. I was influenced by Picasso's Guernica, by Desmoiselles D'Avignon, I've said it many times now because it's come up lately. I saw Guernica when I was 15 years old in Chicago; they travelled it around the world to raise funds for the Spanish Republic. I saw it in the Chicago Arts Club, It was an overwhelming experience. I saw Rothko's Prometheus, which is a huge painting, now out in California, I saw that in about 1966 or '67, that was huge influence too.
T. Did these experiences spur you on to become a mural sized painter?
L. Probably, what I admired, I liked the regard, the pediment, I liked the idea of somehow the figures in these sculptures being larger than life size, like a burgherman, maybe it refers to civil architecture.
T. So it's something out of scale that's going on?
L. A sense of monumental incursion into your space. There's a certain sense of awe I have about these items, out-of-scale items, or the rawness of materials and the appearance of art, I was awed by it. It seems so elemental. The elemental seems to be the source of things to me. I have probably a routine notion of it, but nevertheless it's what I carried at the time, so in that sense I respected Dubuffet but I thought he was more caricature-like you see. What he did, he did not have the elementalism I found in primitive art, at all.
T. He is much more laconic...
L. It's witty, he's presenting it with a bit of monkeying around too.
T. I thought that statement of his about the Bayeux Tapestry, that it could be about people in a sardine-canning factory, this idea of his of the quotidian, the ordinary life....
L. I respect Dubuffet although I think his work is more clever, which is a bad thing. Maybe, I'm getting too clever.
T. Clever is a bad thing?
L. Yeah, because it makes you glib. You float through things, on a crucial issue you make some clever remarks and walk away from it. You don't necessarily have a deep committment to things. Cleverness is an escape route.
T. That doesn't deny intellectual labour?
L. No, because you have got to use all your resources, the mind is part of it. If you're making an object and you're trying to deal with what I dare to call an Event Horizon, then you'd better use all your resources that you can call upon. The mind is one of them, one of the most significant resources that you have. It's the most significant in terms of setting it up; visualising it, determining it, and criticising yourself, it's crucial...
T. What do you think your work could be the test case of now, what is the work testing out?
L. It's testing out, how the hell we're functioning as a society, in the world, at this particular moment. How we are getting along, you know. Who are we? If I paint a painting WE LOVE OUR LEADER. I'm saying that these regimes are corrupt, you see, and they're twisting and distorting the reality that people actually experience, forcing it into another direction and they are in a sense destroying people's lives. It is very angry critique at a certain level.
T. Does the level of support for the Iraq War trouble you?
L. For the Americans, yeah, sure I'm troubled by it. I'm troubled by our government. I don't trust our government. I don't trust their international actions. I think they're mean and vicious.
Looking out of the curved window, your head turned to the right, eyes drifting down past the steel barriers dividing incoming and outgoing traffic. The plastic bottles slowly degrading in the ultra violet light. Polymers gradually breaking down, their long molecular bonds snapping off from each other soundlessly, endlessly, forever. The plastic becoming more and more brittle making it easier to crack and break like dry vegetable matter. The oil that was once under the ground has now been forced , sucked and routed to huge industrial complexes on the coast, overlooking grey blue seas near estuaries calm and fenced off. This liquid sludge, product of dead marine life, its gases already burnt off into the wind out on the grey North Sea. The glutinous matter has been refined and processed to make the essence, the essence of life, big transport. Your motor calmly turning over, exploding twenty five thousand revolutions a minute, piston and pump and chamber, squirting and moving in unison. Another litre of essence sucked and burnt and spurted out into the engine intake of the car behind.
In the spaces between major traffic zones we find certain clues to the dilemmas confronting every artist in the West.
The blue plastic bottle started life in a stainless steel tank, as an organic molecule that was polymerised and given long, long beautiful chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules making it slinky, sexy and feline, like a fetishists wet day dream. Pushed, pulled and extruded through pipes and tubes of exact calibration with tolerances much less than a millimetre, released from a spinneret, the fetishist's arachnoids scene, round and round inside the mould. A blue plastic bottle appears, a virgin vessel, pristine unscratched and untouched by human hand. Ridged and ribbed and safe to hold, rewarding and tactile to hold with a warmth responsive to human touch and body warmth. Filled with water pumped from underground aquifers, filtered and gassed according to your taste, tickling the back of your throat, pleasingly. Throats parched, red interior flesh, moist and mucoudal, dry from the heat pumping out of the dull grey plastic dashboard vent. The cool fizzy liquid gushing down the oesophagus taking with it a white tablet, lozenge shaped. Synthesised painkiller. Nearly like the plant. Salicylate acid. Easing a headache resulting from water loss to the system.
The weather in North Europe is getting darker due to cloud cover but paradoxically not getting wetter. A curious counter-intuitive state of affairs, the sky gets gloomier each year with less sunlight getting through to the ground level.
Tossed out from the mother ship, your slow moving car, on to a landscape that persists in the space between steel barriers. A green of grey hues, evenly covered in PCB's from the red, green brightly painted HGV's moving apples red or green from the farm to central distribution apex to retail outlet, all on the just-in-time basis. At the retail outlet shed, pantheon of all oral desires, a nice clean man with a blue plastic badge informing you his name is Timothy, nice sweet man. He will smile at you in an open confident manner and direct you to the fruit produce section. How comforting his confidence in a system that moves produce around the landscape. The weeds continue to persist out there in the zone between your now static cars caught in a traffic jam that has backed up from the accident five miles ahead. People in high visibility jackets, some green and crouching on the ground, some yellow moving briskly shouting into radios, adjusting red heavy rubber based cones out into the slow moving traffic filing dutifully past, every eye and sinew in the neck straining to catch the sight of blood and the last fugue of mortality. The smell of death, transmission fluid, hard edged plastic with rusty iron undertones merging with the smell of diesel engines, steam and hot cooker gas aromas.
Artists for the most part are content to act out the position of entertainer in a dumb parody of their more famous city cousins. The New Celebrity with their strange tans and strange xenophobic lusts for sameness and fear of difference. Herd instinct is taking over.
Herb Robert, a delicate pink four petalled flower clinging to the ground amidst the short stunted grass and groundsel.A weed common across most of Europe. Petals covered with a gentle dust of carbon, lead, and sulphur compounds, some larger pieces of rubber vulcanised and pliable. Black flowers in a hard gritty desert. Occasionally, the odd brown and yellow picture of a piece of cork wrapped around a cylinder of cellulose, stained brown, a forgotten skid mark, squashed at one end by dirty fingers angular and firm. The plastic bottle lands, bounces once and rests next to a steel bolt sheared off from a forty eight tonner thundering towards the sea port. miles down the road. Black brown, greasy, the raw sheared metal shining in the late afternoon light, its shimmering glint passing through the blue plastic. A weak blue sparkle as you pass slowly on the outside lane hands holding the wheel between palm and the bony inner thumb. Traffic backed up for miles ahead.
Caught between barriers in a landscape, nearly empty of moving life, where hardly a human being walks, only matter, vegetable or mineral survives out here
21st April 2005; between three to eight years remain before peak oil reserves point is reached on the planet.
The mild steel posts holding flexible elastic restraining barriers, gently susurrating the reflected engine hum against the side of the pressed opalescent blue carapace of the car. You thought it looked like a soap bubble when you saw it, a fleck of spittle at the corner of your mouth as you signed the monthly repayment contracts. How much soap. detergent, non ionic cleansers, fragrances, dispersible waxes, plastic foam sponges, yellow rubber gloves with fleece lining, will it take to clean the automobile coated in grey dust, a light brown emulsion of water and clay substrates, blue black oil sprayed up from the tar macadam road. All colours dull and earthy combining with dust from metal, PCB's, grit from the rock salt. The ground hard and unwilling to accept much in the way of plant life, except for odd patches of brilliant groundsel, white and frothy, the lacy filigree on the glass of European lager drunk and hour ago. The grassy hops still belching up from regions of the gut trapped behind the nylon webbing of the seat belt. The open window allows in some cold afternoon air as the day turns to dusk. Outside a patch of yellow flowers swaying in the wind whipped up by the cars speeding by on the other side of the reservation.
26th April 2005; International Herald Tribune, reports a meeting between President Bush and Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, "The Crown Prince understands that it's very important for there to be, to make sure that the price is reasonable. A high oil price will damage markets. It's an important subject". Bush hoped that Saudi Arabia will raise production levels from 9.5 million barrels a day to 12.5 million barrels a day.
Spit flying through the air in a graceful parabola towards the empty space at the side of the road. A flying arrow of DNA, saliva and pathogens hits the other metal barrier and begins its slow slide down the grey galvanised metal stain it a darker hue. The only moisture to hit this part of the world for a while has been numerous gobs of spit flung out of phlegmy mouths by drivers to hot to speak. You would notice that newish car, white like a dealers, driving along on the opposite lane on the outside edge. The man, hard and lean, smelling of old sweat and sour adrenaline, gone in a second.
The crop for this years (2005) opium is going to be a bumper crop, up 800 tonnes on last year. The end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan has helped free up the fields for more opium poppies. It makes good economic sense. Other crops don't produce such high profits as the $100 a tonne for opium for the farmer, through to the entire chain of transaction, as prices remain stable.
Pulling into the back street round the back of the station, where the snotty prostitutes click clack down the cold streets yellow sodium glare bouncing off the wet tarmac. The spotty pustulating youths, caps backwards, slipping into the telephone kiosks to stick up new cards in the windows. Tarts with full colour pictures offering O 'n A and many, many other services to the body. Recently arrived here from small towns at the edges of the European Economic Zone. Caged in small grimy rooms, with thin floral curtains barely keeping out the orange light from the street, shadows passing across the curtains. Anna's emaciated arms pin pricked in wriggly lines up the veins. Another fix is on it's the way as the last one wears off. Returning out of numbness to see the glare of a 60 watt light bulb burning a yellow hole against the dirty white ceiling. A packet, dirty brown drops through the letter box. It's not the drug that harms, it's the people you hang out with it that do the damage. These people don't fuck about, if your slow producer and don't turn clients over fast enough, then your face meets wall pretty damn fast. Snot, teeth and saliva smearing hard against the floral decorative wallpaper bubbling under the surface. The brain macerating against the hard bony points inside your skull. Maybe, one day Anna will get out of here. Only when the clients stop turning up for trade. It's business at the sharp end. The oleaginous schmear of a cars red light sliding down the shiny road back to another meet. You are the next deal whether you like it or not.
International Herald Tribune, 26th April 2005; reports the arrest of Haji Bashir Noorzai in Afghanistan, accused of building a multi million dollar drugs trades through an 'unholy alliance' with the Taliban.
Jack got out of the army 2 years ago after the war. He had to otherwise he would have gone mad being a grunt for another five years, his Commanding Officer was making life hell for him and the redtops were closing in on the deals. Out here life was worse you never know where your going to get hit, at least inside the firm you knew who were your enemies, usually the ones staying close to you, watching you, and your every fucking move. Out here all you could see were shadows in the shadows. Even the shadows were safer places than the daylight spaces, the bright lit rooms, the overhead fluorescents humming and flickering, the blue green light breaking your eye balls. We speak with corpses in our mouths, before the deal is done, and then get the fuck out of there afterwards in case any bleeder gets a bit frisky. Business is divided into sectors, you don't buy an alliance in this business, and you make it with your bare hands, muscle and grease. Some of his other mates who left the firm weren't as lucky as J, ending up staring into space after a bottle of ice white, shuffling down windy streets to the next pissy doorway.
Down the narrow street that leads to the Pattaya beachfront, past the cafes offering full English breakfast and the masseuses offering full everything else, every middle aged British male seems to be accompanied by a Thai woman half his age, half his size and seven times as attractive.
The Guardian, April 11, 2005
The Dogs Bollox pub is a warm and inviting smell. Old beer and sweat on a cold September night. The girls on stage move aimlessly to a dull pounding beat and then sit down with the punters. It's a good idea to keep them in the pub, before they get maudlin drunk and wander off into the orange night crying tears over lost years. The longer they stay there, the more coins and notes drop into the girls' pint pots. Money to be be divided up later by the Fat Cow who runs this stinking joint that reeks of disinfectant, spunk and beer. The man comes by later demanding the fee and slipping the gear in the palm of your hand. You cough up quick otherwise you'll be throwing up your teeth on a wet mattress.
Summer Lilac. Profit margins are moving up on the heroin fields. You can take a hit and still be making sixty per cent across the distribution chain.
In black and white on the surveillance camera you are another piece of white trash relieving your dick against the wall. The security camera can see nothing more than a leather jacket, pale shirt and shaved head. A large hairy dark dog slowly lays a turd at the corner of the flickering image, the animal slowly wandering off, flicking its back legs involuntarily. The street lamp at the top of the image burning an after image into the lens. A hole in the sea of things that we call observation and security. Rubbish bins against the drain pipe. Four pints of lager and a packet of crisps. Please. The wire fence rustling with the brush of buddleia against the galvanised metal and crumbling concrete posts. The derelict ground covered in mounds of rubble, rank weeds, low bushes, thin grasses, condoms and thin crushed beer cans. The colour mags rustling in the grass, a face tanned and orange smiling up at you offering great success and fame. Her lips peeled back in a rictus grin without any trace of crinkling lines. In the distance a police siren screams through another orange lit main road.
Buddleia, originally imported from China by 19the century explorers, now considered an invasive weed in many parts of US. Not easily killed, grows in most soil, especially that which has been disturbed. Often to be seen growing on tops of disused buildings, crumbling masonry, and derelict ground sites left undisturbed.
Arriving at the airport, sleek and glass, the car stereo playing a reassuring adagio. Drifting the car into the long term car park, slipping the clutch into 1st and arcing wide into a far part of the space. The jet drones overhead a high pitched whine with undertones deep and bass alluding to great commercial and industrial power. Pale grey trails bursting out of its engines, the smell of aviation fuel drifting across the car park, as the mighty great tube of lightweight metal weighing more tonnes that you can think about comes down onto the tarmac, wheels angled jerking back to face the ground plane with a puff of white smoke, black rubber burning. Engines screaming into reverse. Observing this spectacle of commerce and power you wonder how to compute fuel in tonnes rather than litres, and how a fuel tank looks like a room sized container tucked inside each of its wings. What is it like to know in an intimate but rational way that underneath your feet there is 30,000 feet of air? Out the tail of this monster spurt all the shit, piss and bodily fluids of your flight into the atmosphere breaking up, dispersing into many tiny fragments permeating the clouds with frozen E.Coli. like some giant fat slug smearing mucous white across the blue sky. The pilot flies across the curve of the earth in a great slow parabola easing controls onto automatic and calculating fuel remaining. The grey breeze of the open countryside blearing your eyes behind dark holiday shades, the mind not running fast enough to make all these calculations.
Aviation is believed to be responsible for at least 5-6% of the total warming effect caused by greenhouse gases. Nitrogen oxide having the most disproportionate effect due to the emissions in the upper atmosphere.
UK Royal commission on Environmental Pollution
Stepping into the cool air conditioned hum of the terminal through wide sweeping doors that gather you into their embrace like the giant arms of mother. Swallowed in whole, the terminal will spit you out at the other end re-born, your senses working at fever pitch attempting to assimilate information from your new wholesome risk free environment. Check in your bag, the leather one last, on top, smile at the attendant, you might need their help. You are being reduced to state of a child slowly over the next few minutes you will have given up every responsibility as the corporation takes charge of events from now until you next walk out of those big wide sweeping arms at the other end. The first gin and tonic in the bar airside, tasting like the purest bitter sweet water ever tasted, juniper and metal. A sterile environment where your every bodily function is weighed monitored and calculated according gains and losses on some imaginary Stock Exchange of the Visceral. How many socks and underwear and irrelevant tubes of toothpaste are carried across vast distances, in fast moving vectors of fuel and metal? The finely ground mineral and mint mixture with added synthetic sweeteners in a plastic tube made pliable by phthalates that will eradicate your male chromosomes, squeezed between thumb and finger onto the plastic brush hairs to scrape away last nights bacterial scum. There will be toothpaste in the next country you go to. But when you go to meet the man, you want your face on. Not the one borrowed from the airline free vanity packet with disposable brush.
Bisphenol-A compound found in plastic food containers and cans has been show to be a contributing factor in women developing breast cancer. Researched at Nagoya City University Medical School. Those women with three times higher levels of BPA were more likely to miscarry.
Opening the soft translucent package, releasing the steam from the brown meat and gravy and removing the white plastic knife and fork from its sheath of plastic and paper, he realised that he hadn't eaten for nearly a day since the last meeting. Hunger returned like a memory, adrenaline had been his fuel for the past twenty four hours, making him smell like a hunted animal. Eating returned him to something like a human again. He felt warmth and compassion for his fellow human beings, running around inside their fantasies of travel and new horizons. Didn't they know the finitude of the objects surrounding them; the future is running out fast. He felt somehow sad for them, poor little buttons. Contentment is going to be the ultimate human condition not self realisation, a contentment he was happy to participate in momentarily for now. A calm smothering contentment that will allow us all to talk about our selves endlessly to whoever is within ear shot, or who will listen.
Evidence presented at the Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Forum, San Diego, have found that chemicals used in plastics called phthalates which makes plastics pliable, were likely to lead to feminisation of boys similar to studies demonstrated in animals. Leading to all aspects of male identity being altered as well as measurable physiognomic alterations; including levels of aggression, parenting behaviour and learning speeds being altered.
The traffic started to move quicker again after a long delay. The cars shifting up the gears, spreading out across the tarmac, the airport extension work was taking place on both sides of the motorway. The bridges across the motorway still in their growth period, stumps and fingers reaching blindly across a new eight lane motorway. Motorway maintenance workers moved around the outsized construction gear like so many small animals, human, vulnerable, yellow clad. The looked like new born offspring gestated from the machines they tended with loving care, young insects in yellow yet to gain their hard exoskeleton, contrasting with their worn skin from so many years out in the open with cars whipping the wind past them at deathly speeds. Skin and glass sliding by each other, smooth carapaces concealing conditions of hard industrial and commercial power that was slowly tearing the planet apart. His mind was working faster and faster, to translate minute movements in the market, according to patterns and tracking mechanisms, that could detect flows and the counter flows of market movement. Pension funds were moving money in and out of the markets so fast, would the capital funding for the airport extensions be secure for the next week or the next year? People moved large bound documents around on large mahogany tables underneath soft diffused fluorescent lights discussing leverage, hedging and holding companies, and how to defray risk. Ties of military stripes maroon, beige and duck egg blue, grey charcoal skirt suits of sober intention rustle with the tension of decisions taken, others delayed, and side operators were being frozen out of the loop. Notes were taken in abbreviated terse language of a military nature, committing as little as possible to the record. Groups were moving forward on this one in a proactive way, while other lone operators held back in the shadows waiting for mistakes to occur, for an opportunity for advancement to come their way, like crumbs off the table.
They all meet in an international hotel of their choice, walking purposefully towards green glass doors in order to decide how to stop or arrest or slow or ameliorate the advance of climate change. Outside the avant gardists protest. Policemen advance in carefully organised and choreographed phalanxes, blue black against the swaying green of early summer oat fields
The car was smooth on the inside, synthetic surfaces of reassuring neutrality. Grey charcoal plastic gave the car a slightly clinical smell above the other smells of cologne purchased on holiday and synthetic upholstery coated in fire retardant slowly warming up in the sun filtering through the tinted glass.
The market was moving in many directions at the same time, away from Europe into China and the Far East, where labour costs were low and the work force compliant, the yen was weakened perhaps fatally. The rem was overvalued vastly. India needed vast amounts of power plants and water to make the technological leap forward. Anxiety was high, was it time to move into metals following the Chinese tiger, nerves were jittery throughout the markets, and the screens were busy everywhere across all time and space. Over the radio, in restrained tones of carefully modulated delivery, a voice intoned softly into the car, "the future of technological advancement rests on the future of plastic". A light sweat from the palms of his hands coated the plastic steering wheel as he drove faster into the certain future. Out there at the apex of the perspective where parallel lines never meet. The future lay.
© Tony Benn